KILLDEER – (Charadrius vociferus)
The Killdeer is a plover that, contrary to most other species in that shorebird genus, does not ‘go to the beach’ (not often anyway), but rather can be found on lawns, parking lots and golf courses in urban areas, and in fields and other open dry areas during breeding season. Its length is around 26 cm (10 in.), its upper parts are medium brown on top and its under parts are white. There is a white circular collar followed by a black one, then a white band on the breast followed by a black one. The forehead is white with a small black band above, and there is also a small white band above the eye, which has a red ring. There is a small black band starting from each side of the bill and ending on the neck side. The rump is pinkish-orange. The bill is black and the legs pinkish. Sexes are similar, and juveniles have only one black neck band.
The English name ‘Killdeer’ is an onomatopoeia for the bird’s somewhat plaintive call (and no, it does not ‘kill deer’!) The Latin genus name ‘charadrius’ is from ancient Greek and refers to a bird found in ravines or river valleys, and ‘vociferus’ means ‘to shout’. The latter name was given to the bird because of its clear sounding calls, often heard in flight or even after sunset or before sunrise. In addition, this bird was also called ‘Chattering’ or ‘Noisy’ plover in the past! Its main call is also easy to imitate.
Killdeer parents are known to use the ‘broken wing tactic’ to attract would-be intruders away from their nest, which is built (actually, it’s more of a ‘scrape’) on the ground. (I have personally witnessed this strategy in an agricultural field in Quebec, and was convinced – for a short moment only!) They also have another tactic to try and redirect a large grazing animal from their nest – by making themselves appear bigger and lunging at the animal.
The diet of the killdeer is opportunistic, i.e. includes invertebrates, seeds, and small amphibians or fish.
The killdeer is known to breed on PEI, and is considered as common to fairly common, depending on the years. In the Maritimes killdeers can also be observed in coastal marshes and mudflats. Its main breeding range encompasses most of Canada up to the tree line, and the northern part of the USA except out West, where it is a year-round resident, as well as the rest of the USA and the northern half of Mexico. Killdeers from the northern range will migrate south down to the northern part of South America.
Conservation: Killdeer populations declined markedly over the last few decades, in spite of the fact that this bird species adapted to the human environment by using agricultural fields, for example. However, this advantage might be offset by the negative impact of pesticide use on those fields.